Star Wars Squadrons - title

I don't think it will be controversial to say that the best part of EA's 2017 Star Wars Battlefront II was the multiplayer space dogfighting. It made me yearn for a good Star Wars flight sim in the vein of the old X-Wing and TIE Fighter PC classics. But in this age of big-budget, micro-transaction-fueled, multiplayer-focused, spectacle shooters, I wasn't going to hold my breath for EA (the exclusive rights-holder to Star Wars games) to deliver any time soon, especially after a planned remake from LucasArts was canceled back in 2009.

So it came as a surprise to see Star Wars: Squadrons. Yes, it's an online game with a competitive multiplayer focus, so no divergence from modern norms there. But it's also a $40, "middle-shelf" game built on a lower budget than the usual AAA blockbuster that EA produces. That lower budget and pricetag seems to have liberated developer Motive from much of the corporate burden of expectations associated with a larger-scale, more expensive product. Squadrons takes a few risks by raising the expectations and barrier of entry for players, and it doesn't stoop to offsetting its lower pricetag by incorporating a micro-transaction economy (at least not yet).

A flight-sim light

Much like the Ace Combat series, Star Wars: Squadrons hits a good, comfortable middle-ground between an arcade dogfighter and a flight-sim. Squadrons even errs a bit closer to sim in some regards via its power-allocation and sub-system-management mechanics. It is also much more restrictive about the use of special weapons. While Ace Combat allows players to coast along by shooting down almost every enemy plane with your stockpile of 60 or 70 missiles (despite flying a plane that only has between 2 and 6 missles strapped to its undercarriage), Squadrons focuses much more heavily on the use of the fighters' primary laser cannons.

Squadrons locks the player into a cockpit view.

Players are even locked into a cockpit view with limited HUD elements, forcing players to rely on the cockpit instruments. This game makes me wish I had a good PS4-compatible flight stick. The only flight stick I own is an old PC one, which I had to jury-rig to work with Ace Combat 7 on Steam.

No, it isn't as as involved as the classic X-Wing and TIE Fighter PC flight sims, but it's a significant step up from the N64 Rogue Squadron game and its sequel.

Motive has redeemed itself from the awful
single-player campaign of Battlefront II.

A more serious effort

Squadrons shows a lot of signs of learning from the failures of Battlefront II. In fact, I was surprised to find out that Motive was not the studio that developed Battlefront II's space dogfighting. That duty was handled by Criterion Studios. Motive was, in fact, the studio behind Battlefront II awful single-player campaign.

This time, Motive seems to have put some actual thought and effort behind Squadrons' campaign, its story, and its characters. Almost as if this is a project that the studio actually wanted to do, rather than being a project that was imposed upon them by a greedy publisher who just wants a token single-player mode in a game that is actually designed to scam money out of people with pay-to-win online multiplayer.

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Ace Combat 7 - title

Ace Combat 4 would be on my short list for "favorite games ever". It's one of the few games that I've beaten multiple times. I rented the game from Blockbuster (back when Blockbuster was a thing), and beat it over a weekend. A few months later, I wanted to play it again, so I rented it another weekend, and beat it. I think I may have rented it (and beat it) one more time before finally just buying my own damn copy from a bargain bin, then played through it again.

When I was in high school, my parent's home was broken into, my PS2 and all my games were among the items stolen -- including Ace Combat 4. Despite having already beaten the game multiple times, when it came time to replace my PS2 collection, I bought the "Greatest Hits" version of the game, and played through it once more.

So in total, I rented Ace Combat 4 at least two or three times from Blockbuster, and have bought two new, retail copies of the game.

I always liked how this series hits a comfortable middle ground between an arcade shooter/dogfighter and a flight sim. You can configure the controls so that the planes fly like actual planes, but it also gives you access to 50-100 missiles on planes that only have 2 missiles strapped to their wings. If you get good enough, you can shoot down enemy planes with just machine gun, but it takes a lot of practice.

Ace Combat has found a comfortable middle ground between arcade shooter and flight sim.

I had gotten to the point that the mission briefing music has been permanently burned into my memory, and I was performing my own self-imposed challenge runs in those last few playthroughs of AC4. I would play through the entire game with machine guns only, trying to cut down on the number of times that I'd have to stop at the airstrip or carrier to resupply. I think the only other game that I've ever done self-imposed challenge runs on is Metal Gear Solid 2.

Challenge runs

The direct sequel, Ace Combat 5, sadly, didn't quite do it for me. I played the game once, and I'm not even sure if I finished it or not. A big part of that game's problem was that it was repetitive. A belligerent nation launches a surprise attack, cripples the Allies' military, and the Alliance has to fight back to reclaim occupied territory before finally beating the aggressor by capturing or destroying its secret super-weapon. I had been there, done that so many times that Ace Combat 5 just kind of dragged. It didn't help that many of Ace Combat 5's missions felt recycled straight from Ace Combat 4.

Ace Combat 6 was an XBox exclusive, which I never played on account of having never owned an XBox, and the other titles since have either been portable titles or spin-offs that just veered too far into "arcade" territory for my tastes. As such, it's been over a decade since I last played an Ace Combat game. Perhaps Ace Combat 7 is a prime opportunity to jump back on the bandwagon? Well, if you were getting tired of challenge runs in AC4, then 7 is loaded with its own little challenges for the player.

Clouds will ice your plane, limiting maneuverability, stalling the plane, and covering the canopy in frost.

Much moreso than the previous games that I've played, Ace Combat 7 uses environmental phenomena and genuine level design to throw a little wrench into the gears. Most missions will have some extra little circumstantial element of its design that can knock a player out of your comfort zone and force you to get creative and/or bold.

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Star Wars X-Wing: Scum & Villainy

With Fantasy Flight having recently announced a second edition of its X-Wing miniatures game, I thought I'd take one last stab at reviewing content from the original release (first edition). I'm not sure if I'll end up buying any second edition content, since I've already invested heavily into the first edition. There will be optional "conversion kits" that you can purchase for each faction (Rebels, Empire, and Scum) that will make all the first edition expansions forwards-compatible with second edition. That's a nice gesture from Fantasy Flight, as it means that the hundreds of dollars that I've invested into X-Wing won't be rendered moot overnight. I guess my decision on whether or not to purchase will be based on whether the new second edition mechanics, rule changes, and balance adjustments feel worthwhile. Anyway, let's talk about the third (and final) faction from the first edition of X-Wing: Scum & Villainy.

Despite having previously said that I wasn't interested in the "Most Wanted" expansion for Star Wars: X-Wing, we did end up buying it after all. My girlfriend was interested in some of the ships offered by the "Scum and Villainy" faction, so we picked up the "Most Wanted" set along with a couple of extra expansion ships compatible with the Scum faction.

Scum and Villainy repurpose existing ships

"Most Wanted" MSRP: $39.95 USD

Most Wanted acts as a "base set" for the new Scum and Villainy faction. It's still an expansion to the core X-Wing game, and so it does not include maneuver templates, dice, and other core components. Fantasy Flight still wants to nickel-and-dime you into paying extra for those components. A player interested in Scum could, hypothetically get by without investing in this expansion. It includes a variant of the Y-Wing and two Z-95 Headhunters with alternate paint schemes. Both of these ship types are already for sale as stand-alone expansion ships for the Rebel faction, so there isn't anything terribly new or innovative here.

Star Wars X-Wing - Scum team-up
You can't play 1 v 1 v 1, but you could have Scum team up with another faction.

Unfortunately, despite adding a third faction, Most Wanted (and the other Scum & Villainy expansions) do not add rules for a third player. I'm not quite sure how having a third player would work within the game, but it would have been nice to have been able to include more friends. You can, of course, add a third or fourth player using the core set's team rules. This could allow (for example) a 100-point rebel squad to face off against a team of a 50-point imperial squad and a 50-point scum squad (or larger fleets, if you so desire). But there are no rules for a 50-point vs 50-point vs 50-point, three-player free-for-all.

To make things more interesting, you could maybe create a scenario in which Scum are teamed up with another faction, but the scum player and their teammate actually have conflicting goals or objectives. For example, I could imagine a scenario in which the Scum and Rebels team up against a single Imperial player to do something like steal some Imperial cargo pods. While the Rebels and Scum would be working together to defeat the Imperial player, they might also be competing for who steals the most cargo. Or something like that.

Those limitations aside, I actually do recommend picking up Most Wanted if you're interested in the Scum & Villainy faction. Most Wanted is actually a surprisingly content-rich expansion and provides pretty good value for its price. It's the same price as the core set, and includes as many ships and plenty of upgrades (including the coveted "Bomb Upgrade" for Y-Wings). In addition to the three fighters and their associated pilots, this expansion also includes alternate pilot card for other existing ships. You can use the new scum pilot cards with any Y-Wings or Z-95 Headhunters that you may already have in your collection, and you can also use the new Y-Wing and Z-95 models with the older pilots in your existing Rebel fleets.

Star Wars X-Wing - Firespray and HWK Scum
Most Wanted includes alternate Scum pilots for any Firespray or HWK-290 ships you may already own.

This set also goes a little above-and-beyond by including alternate Scum pilots for some other ships, like the HWK-290 freighter and the Firespray (including a pretty badass new Boba Fett pilot). You should have no trouble filling out a 100-point (or maybe even a 150-point) squad with just the pilots and upgrades included in this box, assuming that you already have some of the other Scum-eligible ships available in your collection. And if you don't already have a Firespray (Slave I), then I highly recommend that you pick one up!

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Star Wars: X-Wing - Imperial Raider

This past couple years, my girlfriend and I have been getting very into the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game. We've also been converting some of our friends into avid players as well. After sitting on my shelf for several years with only a couple play sessions under its belt, the set has been getting played every few weeks with regularity. As such, we've also been investing more and more into additional expansions beyond the set that I initially bought. Late in 2016, my local board game store put its Corellian Corvette expansion on sale, so I went ahead and snatched up a copy of that huge, epic expansion ship. The following year, I went on to pick up the Imperial Raider huge expansion (also on sale)..

It took a while for these two ships to get much play though (seriously, they were sitting around for years), since they don't slot into the X-Wing core rules as easily as other expansions do. Playing with the huge ships requires increasing the scale of the X-Wing game considerably. The huge ships, by themselves, cost well over 100 fleet points. As such, the basic 100-point fleets go out the window for the epic-scale matches. Instead, 300 fleet-building points are recommended if any epic ships are in play. In addition, a larger play area is needed for most epic scenarios. If you bought a play mat for X-Wing, you might need to invest in a second mat as well (and they ain't cheap).

Contents

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Dunkirk movie poster

I've had a busy couple of weeks of movies! Three movies in the past two weekends, and planning on seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming in the next couple days. But first, while trying to keep ourselves entertained in Des Moines, my girlfriend and I decided to kill a couple hours at the movies and checked out the newly-released war movie from Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk.

I'll admit that it took me a little while to figure out this movie's chronological structure. Director Christopher Nolan decided to edit the movie into a non-sequential order, in which individual scenes jump back and forth between points in the movie's timeline (sometimes to show the same event again, but this time from a different point of view). There's three main storylines running in parallel: a pair of soldiers trying to catch a boat off the beach, a pair of pilots hunting down German bombers, and a civilian yacht captain setting sail to help rescue the stranded British army. Early in the movie, the scenes with the soldiers take place at night, and the scenes on the planes and in the yacht take place during the day.

At first, I thought maybe this was some kind of time zone difference. Like maybe the scenes on the boat were taking place sufficiently east that the sun had already set; whereas, the planes were flying far enough west that the sun hadn't set yet. This wasn't the case. The movie was, in fact, shifting between an aerial pursuit taking place during one afternoon and the boat escapes that happened the night before (or several nights before). Maybe I missed something at the beginning of the movie that made this all more clear?

I didn't have any trouble following along with the non-linear, compressed time in Inception, but this movie threw me off a tiny bit simply because I wasn't expecting it. Once I realized how the movie actually worked, it was easy to follow along with each of the individual threads, and to start to see where and how they intersected. Not a deal-breaker in any way. By the end, everything comes together quite nicely.

The early movie cycles between the day of the evacuation and conflict from the night before.

Much like War for the Planet of the Apes (which is quite good), Dunkirk is a surprisingly slow and quiet movie...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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